The story of how first became a massage therapist begins in 1982 at the YMCA in Kingston, New York. It was there, in the steam room, that I met a woman who gave massages for a living. Back then I was recuperating from a bad horseback riding accident and used the weight room at Y and that steam room as my healing sanctuary. I made an appointment with her for a massage. Before I met Cary, I’d just never thought of giving massages for a living but once I experienced what a difference each session made, I was a believer.
I studied and learned and started my practice at the Woodstock Health Club, and in my home, nearly forty years ago. Since that time, I parcel my days into hours and hope there will be people enough to fill the slots. Building a practice was not easy. I don’t advertise so it’s all by word of mouth. My years of hard work have paid off and I have a strong clientele, or I mean, I did, until Covid shut the industry down and scared people away. Some clients that I’ve worked with for more than thirty years have not come back.
Suddenly having my profession, my life’s work, classified as nonessential in the face of a worldwide health crisis when massage therapy is perhaps one of the most effective antidotes for stress and pain seemed devastating. Liquor stores were open and we were closed. A client called just a few days into the pandemic and said she’d made the choice to stop eating and not fight the cancer anymore. She asked if I would massage her through her dying days. It was an amazing process for both of us.
In late March I had to convince myself to file for unemployment. I’ve been self-employed most of my life and never before was there an option for assistance. I hesitated because compared to so many I am okay, I own my home and my husband has a part time job. But the truth is I’ve worked hard for a long time and it’s not my fault I can’t work. So along with a forced rest Covid brought me seven hundred and eighty-two dollars a week, and a chance to do something different with my days. Each day I would venture outside in the crisp spring air and walk for two hours then I’d come home and find endless things to keep me busy.
I didn’t have to remind people of their appointments. I didn’t have to hope my datebook filled up. I had time to take a look at things. My daily walks revealed a few old injuries that needed some attention, and I was able to start physical therapy with a doctor who has now inspired me to learn a whole new set of skills because what she did helped me so much. As my body healed those walks became hikes up a steep mountain, runs around a nature preserve, and long hard bike rides. As my body became stronger and my heart and mind got worked in new ways true stamina returned to my body.
It was on one of those challenging hikes that I came upon a baby chipmunk with his tiny back smashed and bleeding and back legs paralyzed struggling in front of me. I didn’t hesitate. I reached into my pack and pulled out a handful of tissues and scooped him up. I carry arnica and rescue remedy with me and gave him a dose of each. He rested atop the tissues and I carried him down the mountain. He had an injured spinal cord and needed my help.
I fed him kitty cat formula with a small oral syringe; I cleaned his wounds and gave him remedies and a safe warm place to rest. With his spine still injured I would carry him across my back yard wrapped up in a small washcloth, his little body wiggling with excitement. I’d set him down on the knobby roots of a black walnut tree where he could get a grip with his front legs and pull himself up the tree, his back legs still paralyzed. Then I’d give him the chipmunk version of a physical therapy session to restore the use of his legs. When I came to Woodstock I couldn’t walk either and I lived on that same mountain and I got better.
My days were filled with caring for him. His trust and companionship added joy to everything. As much as the rest did me good, and the unemployment helped, it was the seventeen days of intensive care for that little chipmunk that reminded me what my life is all about. Chipasaw set himself free in my yard rather than letting me take him back to the mountain where I’d found him.
As the weather warmed and the world opened up a little and we were given the go ahead to work I created a beautiful outdoor massage suite under my carport. It had a dressing room with a wicker rocker and couch and thick shag rug. I laid a stone patio and hung gorgeous crimson silk curtains that billowed in the wind. My yard is full of chimes and plants and birdsong. The client who asked for my care during her dying days gave me a massage table before she passed away and I set up on the stone patio to honor her. Just like my indoor massage studio I covered the table with soft sheets and long luscious towels and used my marvelous assortment of healing balms and lotions.
Clients began coming back. Some preferred to be inside with all the air filters and UV light and indoor plumbing but others preferred the outdoor experience. When I was massaging a friend of mine in my outdoor salon I glanced over to the wicker rocker and there sat my little chipmunk watching me, my tiny avatar. My heart swells with joy and confidence every time I see him.
Then I learned that one of my dearest friends had Covid and wasn’t doing well. He was in South Carolina but it seemed like he was a million miles away. I started sending videos from my walks to him wherever he was. I didn’t know if he got them. Months went by with no word from him.
Through the summer I continued my treks up the mountain, long bike rides and daily exercise routines. Even though some of the old clients haven’t returned I’ve been blessed with many new and wonderful people to work with. My friend was released from the hospital and began his long journey back to health. Seeing his deepened appreciation of life gave me a new strength. A few things that kept me focused were my writing and virtual meetings with my writer’s group and my weekly attendance at a twelve-step program on Zoom for people that grew up in an alcoholic household (ACOA). Isolation is a big part of growing up with an alcoholic parent so it’s tricky terrain in a pandemic not to just disappear. In some ways those Zoom meetings were even more intimate than meeting in person.
This time has brought me closer to the truth of who I am and what I love than I’ve ever been before. It brought me new clients, deep revelations, an injured chipmunk, a friend who survived the virus, clearer boundaries, a stronger body, time to feel and time to heal. Taking that step back from what I’ve done for a lifetime was good for me.